Summary: An overview of the work of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament
When I bought my first car – a bright yellow Ford Pinto - I learned how to do a lot of the maintenance on my car. I could change the oil, replace the spark plugs, replace and adjust the points and my distributor cap and even adjust the carburetor. Other than change the oil and possibly replacing my spark plugs, I can no longer do any of that same maintenance because today’s automobiles have replaced points and distributors and carburetors with computers and fuel injection systems that require equipment I don’t have in order to work on the engine.
But while it is true that the design of today’s car engines has changed a lot over the last generation, the basic operation of the internal combustion engine remains largely unchanged. Our cars still use a spark to ignite compressed gasoline vapors in order to move pistons which are connected to a crankshaft which is connected to an axle that turns the wheels to make our cars move.
To me, that is a good illustration of the difference between how we see God working in the Old Testament and in the New Testament. The Bible is clear that God never changes:
For I the LORD do not change…
(Malachi 3:6 ESV)
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
(James 1:17 ESV)
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
(Hebrews 13:8 ESV)
But at the same time, that doesn’t mean that God operated exactly the same in Old Testament times as He does on this side of the cross. And that is particularly true of the Holy Spirit. We saw that last week when we looked at the words of Jesus in John 14. In particular I want to call your attention to these two verses that we spent quite a bit of time on:
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.
(John 14:16-17 ESV)
Let’s focus for a moment on the last phrase. When speaking of the Holy Spirit, Jesus says that He dwells – present tense – with the disciples. But after Jesus leaves the earth to return to His Father and He sends the Helper – the Holy Spirit – then the Holy Spirit will be – future tense – in them. So there is clearly going to be a change in some of the details of the way the Holy Spirit operates. He will go from dwelling with them to being in them.
This morning, in our second message in this series on the Holy Spirit, we’re going to look at how the Holy Spirit operated in the Old Testament in order to help us better understand this change in His operational methods. But as we do that, we need to remember that the Holy Spirit and His character haven’t changed one bit.
Before we proceed, I need to share a word of caution. If you attempt to research the topic of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament on your own, which I certainly encourage you to do, you will undoubtedly be exposed to an ongoing debate between two theological camps – Covenant Theologists and Dispensational Theologists – regarding whether the Holy Spirit actually indwelled the Old Testament saints.
We’re not going to get in the middle of that argument this morning because it would only distract us from our ultimate goal, which is to understand how we can harness the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives today in order to live obedient, fruitful lives while we’re here on this earth. What I want us to do this morning is to see what we can learn from the operation of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament that will help us accomplish that goal.
Obviously we can’t look at every single passage that refers to the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament in our limited time this morning. So I’ve selected just a few representative passages that will allow us to determine how the Holy Spirit operated in the Old Testament and why that is relevant for us. So I want to encourage you to spend some more time this week, looking for some additional passages to test the accuracy of what I’ll share with you this morning.
As you do that, you’ll find that the term “Holy Spirit” is actually only used three times in the Old Testament – once in Psalm 51 and twice in Isaiah 63. But the terms “Sprit of God” and “Spirit of the Lord”, and other similar terms which are used to identify the Holy Spirit, are used rather frequently.